Level Up

By Patrick Kua

Level Up - Issue #158

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Level Up

August 21 · Issue #158 · View online

Level Up delivers a curated newsletter for leaders in tech. A project by https://patkua.com. Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.


Slack?
For personal reasons this week, I was very fortunate to reflect on the idea of slack this week. Even though you can think of “slack” in negative terms (e.g. “that person is being a slacker”, it’s important systems have enough slack. As an example, here’s a variation of a joke I once heard in this context:
What do you call a highway* with no slack? A parking lot.
*or freeway/Autobahn
Slack in work systems offers us flexibility. Slack offers us the chance to deal with the unanticipated. Slack offers us the chance to take advantage of new opportunities. I’m sure you can think of many examples without enough slack and the consequences:
  • A detailed project plan committing 100% of available time to the next 12 months of work doesn’t give an opportunity to adapt.
  • A team working at 100% is thrown into overload if one team member quits.
  • A person working at 100% does not have time to “sharpen their saw” and improve their effectiveness, only to repeat what they already know.
  • A manager with a 100% fully planned week causes a “meeting cascade” as they try to make space for an unanticipated meeting.
  • A software system with a CPU at 100% freezes, unable to “task switch” or do new work until there is more CPU slack.
If you’ve studied risk management, one way of building slack into a system is through contingency. Contingency is useful for the known unknowns. For example, we know product people will want new features/changes based on what software is actually built. We don’t know what exactly. You can see this built into many agile methodologies. For example, “We will plan only one week’s worth of work. When you want a change, you can change your mind about what we work on in the week after that.”
From a time management perspective, this is why reserving “slack” or “contigency time” in advance in your calendar is so important. If you don’t others see your empty time slots as “free” and send you an invite. Suddenly you find yourself with back to back meetings and no time to work on topics like checking email, listing and priortisiting your to-do list and working on important topics like breaking a big problem into smaller steps. Typical consequences is that you never work on those activities or you feel compelled to do these in your evening/weekeneds (e.g. overtime).
If you’d like to learn more about slack, I recommend the Tom DeMarco’s book of the same title, “Slack”. Your activity for this week is to reflect on what slack time you have and what you can do to build a bit more slack into your working week/day.
🎉 One week to go! 🎉 To celebrate 3 years of Level Up, I’m offering a 30% discount for courses at the Tech Lead Academy. Since the anniversary falls in between two issues, this offer will be valid until issue #159 (28 Aug) comes out. Use the coupon: LEVELUP3YEARS on any or all courses at the Tech Lead Academy and use these self-paced courses to level up your own skills.
I hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter! Share it with a friend or colleague if you find it helpful, or drop me an email about topics you’d like to hear about in future editions.

Slack in rubberbands give them some flexibility
Slack in rubberbands give them some flexibility
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Tweets of the Week
⚠️ Please be careful to avoid these 👇 You don’t even have be a manager… just someone in a respected team role is enough.
🇺🇦 Tom Geraghty
Some things to say as a manager to destroy psychological safety:

"You should know that already."
"Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions."
"Who’s to blame for this?"
"We cannot get this wrong."
"There will be no mistakes on this project."
*Eye roll*
I heard this many times as a consultant and still from product/business people today 👇
Troy Magennis
A common outcome goal I get asked for is

"improve the predictability of development and delivery of I.T."

What does "predictability" mean to that customer varies, so I have to spend time digging into it. Here is my view on predictability - it isn't any ONE thing. 1
Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany